Did a cougar ‘stalk’ a hiker in viral Utah video? Here’s what experts say happened

Maddie Capron
·3-min read

A mountain lion followed a hiker for six scary minutes on a trail in a viral video — but what actually happened?

A 26-year-old Utah man posted the video to social media and said he was running on a trail in Provo’s Slate Canyon when he saw cubs on the path.

“Turns out they were cougar cubs and their mother was not happy to see me,” Kyle Burgess wrote on YouTube. “She follows me for over six minutes acting very aggressive while I walk backwards up the trail. Very scary cougar encounter.”

Video shows the mountain lion following Burgess’ every move while he yells and walks away. The animal leaps forward in a move that would scare anyone in its path.

Burgess tried to scare the mountain lion away, but it continued to push him away from her cubs for more than six minutes.

“Go away,” Burgess screams in the video. “I am big and scary.”

Countless media outlets have reported that the mountain lion was “stalking” the hiker and was acting aggressively. Wildlife officials, however, have said the exact opposite.

“The encounter might have been avoided altogether, but once it happened, the runner did a lot of things right,” Denise Peterson, a Utah resident and region coordinator with the Mountain Lion Foundation, said in a news release. “But individuals and the media are getting a lot of things wrong, especially with social media posts and news headlines that claim the lion stalked the man. This was not predatory or stalking behavior.”

Peterson said that while Burgess likely felt very threatened, the mountain lion also did. The mountain lion didn’t treat Burgess like prey, however.

“Lions are ambush-hunters; they do their best not to be seen when they’re hunting,” the Mountain Lion Foundation wrote. “This lion is displaying a very different behavior; she definitely wants the human to see her and know that she’s intent on protecting her kittens.”

Imogene Cancellare, a conservation biologist, said on Twitter that Burgess was not stalked and was being pushed away from the mountain lion’s cubs.

“He’s being pushed away from a cub,” Cancellare tweeted. “While both are scary, the threat is not the same.”

Beth Pratt, the director of the National Wildlife Federation in California, also said in a Facebook post that the mother is protecting her kittens and “escorting him away.”

“If the cat was stalking him, the hiker wouldn’t know it until shortly before she pounced on him,” the post said. “In this video she is escorting him away from her kittens.”

Mountain lion attacks are rare, according to the Mountain Lion Foundation. In the past 25 years, there have been seven fatal attacks in the U.S.

In Utah, cougars live all over, according to Wild Aware Utah. Adults can weigh between 90 and 200 pounds.

If you come in contact with a cougar, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said you should stop and not run from the animal. Standing up tall and making yourself look bigger also helps.

“Talk firmly in a loud voice, back away slowly, and leave the area,” the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said. “Pick up children and pets or keep them very close. Fight back if you are attacked! Protect your head and neck.”